08/22/2011 12:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2011

Could Marital Report Cards Prevent Divorce?

Men and women. Our need for each other. Our obvious differences. Is there anything more fascinating? But when we marry and things go wrong, how many of us spend years struggling with the aftermath?

In the case of couples "growing apart" - if explicit issues could be identified and addressed early enough, might divorce be prevented?

I'm proposing marital conversation, and of a specific sort. Not blame. Exchange. And judging by recent discussion on the Divorce Page, we seem to crave exactly that.

We've read articles igniting vigorous debate - sky-high requests for child support (among the rich and famous), alimony for life (and the reasons for it), and whether or not divorce is the natural order of things (for men). We're angry. We're confused. We're frustrated. We're worn out.

And we're vocal about all of it.

Among the thousands of comments generated in the past days, there are some excellent suggestions. I'd like to mention one - the concept of a marital report card.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

While it may not be a new idea, I doubt that most of us would think to try it. Yet we send our children to school where teachers assess their mastery of subject matter, their attitudes, and their conduct. They're tested. They're graded. We use the process to talk about performance.

In the corporate world we conduct annual reviews. It's a more sophisticated evaluation, but in principle very similar. Individual goals are set (as agreed to), and likewise, team goals. We identify measures for success, we target areas for improvement, and we identify strategies for making progress.

Again, we look at attitude, effort, and accomplishments.

So what if we could do the same in marriage? Devise an informal marital report card - not as an end in itself - but as a feedback system?

As individuals, we continue to evolve. Our interests change. Our working lives are stressful. Family life may be more of a strain than we anticipate. Given the time, cost, and fatigue of raising kids, is it any wonder that we're quickly sidetracked? And as for frequent complaints about women (and insufficient sexual availability), if it's true that mothering trumps making love, can we talk about it? Can we tweak and tinker our relationships to do something about it?

  • How many of us lose touch with our spouses - why they fell in love with us in the first place, what they want from us, what they need from us - and vice versa?
  • Don't friendships, relationships, and marriages lend themselves to the concept of periodic assessment?
  • What if every six months we were to sit down with a thoughtful list of what we want from our spouses - emotionally, logistically, sexually - and discuss it?

I have no illusion that this would solve every problem. Certainly, when we discover that fundamental values are at odds, or life has changed us in dramatic ways, a marital report card is unlikely to help.

But scheduling? Money? The work-life juggle? More sex? What do we have to lose by sharing our concerns or our pleasure? Why not try writing things down, exchanging them, and then talking to each other?

Many of us don't speak up because we don't know how. Some of us have this crazy notion of the perfect date leading to the perfect mate - and the rest (magically) "works itself out." Some of us don't want to rock the boat. But here's the rub. If we don't rock the boat from time to time, we just may allow it to sink.

Could marital report cards prevent divorce? At the very least, could they help us to focus on what we need as individuals, and what the couple needs? Could they encourage us to listen to each other, and possibly make real changes - before our differences spiral out of control?